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Gypsum mining threatens to destroy unique natural landscapes: Environmental associations call for protection of biodiversity through recycling and efficient use of materials

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The German Environmental Aid (Deutsche Umwelthilfe, DUH), the Grüne Liga e.V. and the Association of German Cave and Karst Researchers (Verband der deutschen Höhlen- und Karstforscher e.V., VdHK) strongly warn against mining gypsum in unique natural areas. Minister of Economics and Climate Protection Robert Habeck must present a binding raw material strategy for a resource-conserving and cycle-appropriate use of gypsum, the associations say. The demand is prompted by attempts by the gypsum industry to compensate for the loss of gypsum from flue gas desulphurisation due to the coal phase-out by additional mining in natural areas.

 The Southern Harz Karst Landscape, a biosphere reserve of global importance, is also at risk. Material bottlenecks can also be avoided without overexploitation of nature. For the protection of important ecosystems, DUH, the Grüne Liga e.V. and VdHK therefore demand: the use of more recycled gypsum, the development of further secondary gypsum sources, an export ban on natural gypsum, more efficient use and the use of substitute materials.
"An expansion of natural gypsum mining leads to an irretrievable destruction of the unique landscape in the southern Harz and should be avoided at all costs. The biodiversity crisis is in full swing and important ecosystem services are being lost with the loss of biodiversity.


The Southern Harz gypsum karst landscape includes one of the 30 biodiversity hotspots in Germany. This treasure trove of nature, with the countless functions and services it provides, must be preserved at all costs, because we all benefit from it as a society in the long term," says the national chairman of the Grüne Liga Rene Schuster.


"It is completely unacceptable that the mining of gypsum in worldwide unique natural landscapes such as the Southern Harz gypsum karst area is being discussed, although alternative sources of gypsum have not even begun to be developed. Countries like Denmark or the Netherlands already recycle 40 per cent of their gypsum board. In Germany, a pitiful five percent of all gypsum waste is recycled. To change this, gypsum recycling must be politically promoted by making the selective deconstruction and recycling of gypsum products mandatory. Other potential secondary gypsum sources, such as phosphorus gypsum, must be developed, efficiency standards for gypsum products must be set, the export of natural gypsum must be stopped and the use of alternative building materials, such as wood, must be promoted," demands DUH Federal Executive Director Barbara Metz.


The fact that industry does not stop at gypsum mining in nature conservation areas is shown by the Knauf company. This company is currently holding talks with politicians and administrators in Saxony-Anhalt to obtain permission for test drilling in the Karst Landscape South Harz biosphere reserve located there. Large parts of the worldwide unique gypsum karst belt in Germany are already being mined or have been designated for this purpose. The Karst Landscape South Harz Biosphere Reserve is the largest untouched area to date.


"The South Harz gypsum karst belt in the federal states of Lower Saxony, Thuringia and Saxony-Anhalt is the most important area of its kind in the world from the point of view of cave and karst science. With its geo- and biotopes, especially the karst phenomena and the limestone beech forests, it meets the criteria of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only part of the area has been under nature conservation so far. Its further partial destruction by gypsum mining is not necessary because there are enough technical gypsums on the market," says VdHK Chair Bärbel Vogel.


Gypsum mining in natural areas causes irreversible damage. Apart from their geological uniqueness, the largest areas of biotopes destroyed by gypsum mining in the southern Harz are natural climate-stable deciduous forest habitats whose biodiversity cannot be restored. Therefore, gypsum mining in these natural areas must be prohibited. In addition to Climate Protection Minister Habeck, the prime ministers of Saxony-Anhalt, Lower Saxony and Thuringia are primarily responsible for this.
Associations' letter to Economics and Climate Protection Minister Robert Habeck for a binding gypsum strategy : https://l.duh.de/221026

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